Finite Math
Expert Tutoring at IU

Let's face it - if you go to IU, you're going to have to take finite at some point. It's a core requirement, so not many people take it by choice. On top of that it moves at a very fast pace, so it's easy to fall behind.

Fortunately, our finite tutors can help you keep up. As you work through problems with your tutor, he or she can help keep you on track. Or if you are just completely lost and have no idea where to begin, your tutor can give you a crash course and explain the material clearly and in a way that makes sense to you.


About the course

Finite math (sometimes called "finite", for short) is not an actual field of mathematics. You won't find any mathematicians who study it as a profession. It's more or less an educational Frankenstein, exposing students to bits and pieces from different (real) fields of mathematics. Because of this, many students are frustrated by the way the class seems to move from one topic to another, with no obvious connection between the topics.

Just about every student at Indiana University has to take either finite math or calculus as part of the mathematical modeling gen-ed requirement. Many majors such as economics are required to take both. This "one-size-fits-all" approach to a math requirement means enormous class sizes. In Fall 2019 alone, over 3000 students enrolled in M118 at IU Bloomington, with hundreds more enrolled in the equivalent MATH135 at Ivy Tech.

The people who come up with the gen-ed requirements aren't dumb - they know that most students will never have to compute combinations or minimize a function again after they finish this course. Even the problems that are supposed to be "topical", like maximizing a profit equation, are just contrivances to (hopefully) make the material more interesting. What they're really after is teaching you how to think abstractly yet reason precisely.

Abstract thinking already comes to us natually - it's one of the special traits we have as human beings - but it's also prone to error. Just about every creative profession involves taking a situation or problem in the real world, translating it into a more abstract domain, carefully thinking about it in that abstract domain, and then using what you've learned to make decisions in the real world. If you make the wrong assumptions, or aren't careful about how you go between the real world and the abstract world, the decisions you make could have disastrous consequences! Mathematics brings rigor to our thinking - in mathematics, we turn real problems into abstractions, but every step in our abstracted thinking has to be carefully and precisely justified. This is what they're after in math gen-ed requirements such as finite math.

Like we mentioned before, finite math builds directly off of basic algebra. Since algebra is a "use-it-or-lose-it" skill, we recommend that you take finite as early as possible in your college career. If you wait too long after high school without taking any other math courses, your algebra will start to get rusty, and it will become harder and harder for you to get through finite successfully.

The material itself is approachable, if you have a solid background in algebra. But, like we said before, the classes are huge. This means that it's nearly impossible to get any individual attention from your instructor, like you would in a smaller class.

It also means that there aren't enough grad students to grade exams by hand, so the exams are all multiple choice. This might sound like a good thing - you can use test-taking strategies to get through problems you don't know how to solve - but it also means that you can't get any partial credit. If you make a tiny mistake in a calculation that leads to you to the wrong answer, even if you used the correct formulas and followed the steps correctly, you get the entire question wrong. No one is checking your work - all they care about is whether you write down the correct choice. Additionally, calculators are not permitted on the exams, so you need to be fluent in doing arithmetic by hand - especially adding and subtracting fractions!

Finite requires a good deal of time and effort. You'll probably need to put much more time into it than your typical 3-credit course.

You'll also want to be sure to find out as much as you can about your potential instructor before you sign up for a section. Some instructors are better than others, and this fact alone can mean the difference between an A and a D. Questions you should be asking include:

  • Are they a full-time instructor? Full-time instructors tend to be more immersed in the material.
  • How long have they been teaching finite? The more seasoned instructors will have a better understanding of how the class works, and what you'll need to know to pass the exams.
  • What are other students saying about the instructor? Avoid the online reviews, which can be biased by students who did not do well in the course. Try to talk to people you know who've taken finite.

Besides that, make sure you have a really, really strong grounding in algebra before signing up for finite. Every type of problem you'll cover in finite involves solving equations and manipulating variables. If your algebra is rusty, we highly recommend first taking a refresher course. Alternatively, you can take a free online algebra course through Coursera, or go through the free online videos and lesson plan at the Khan Academy.

If you feel confident about your algebra background, we'd still strongly encourage you to take advantage of as many outside resources as possible. There are several free resources available at IU, including the Math Learning Center, the Academic Support Center, and the Finite Show. In addition, you might consider hiring one of our highly skilled private tutors to get some individualized help (well, we are a tutoring company, right?). Finally, do your homework and as many extra practice problems as you can. The only way to get good at math is by doing math.

So, in summary, if you want to pass finite:

  • Get a good instructor
  • Make sure you have a solid algebra background
  • Take advantage of resources outside of class
  • Do your homework and practice problems (we have our own finite practice problems you can try as well)
  • Get a tutor

As far as we can tell, it's called finite math because the topics covered specifically do not involve infinite math - in other words, calculus. You won't see limits, derivatives, integrals, or other concepts that are closely tied to the concept of infinity (∞). Of course this is a silly (and somewhat arbitary) distinction, because the concept of infinity comes up in the theory behind virtually every branch of mathematics. But, as they're presented in M118 and MATH135, you'll never actually see the ∞ symbol.

Part 1: Sets and Probability

  • Basic set theory. Solving Venn diagrams, working with unions, intersections, and complements of sets. Mutually exclusive and independent events.
  • Counting techniques. Permutations, combinations, and partitioning. Problems like "how many different ways can I form a committee of X individuals from Y men and Z women, if I must have at least Q women and R men on the committee?"
  • Probability. The infamous "colored balls in urns" problems. Conditional probability. Discrete probability distributions, such as the binomial distribution.

Part 2: Linear Algebra

  • Solving systems of equations and converting them into matrix form.
  • Adding, subtracting, and multiplying matrices.
  • Basic properties of matrices.
  • Row reduction, Gauss-Jordan elimination, and matrix inverses.
  • Systems of inequalities.

Part 3: Applications of Linear Algebra

  • Economic input/output models.
  • Basic linear optimization problems (aka "linear programming").
  • Introduction to Markov chains.

Interactive practice quiz

Visit our finite quiz and practice with problems from real IU finite exams. Our quiz is fully interactive.

Each problem is multiple choice, just like on a real exam. The only difference is that we'll help you when you're wrong, and even explain where we think you might have gotten off-track.

Practice finite math now

Detailed problem walkthroughs

Our blog contains fully worked-out example problems and videos, thoroughly explained by our expert finite tutors.

Week 1 - Set Theory

By: Sarah

Week 2 - Probability with Combinations

By: Sarah

Leontief input-output model (technology matrix) problems

By: Alex

A linear programming word problem - with a surprise twist

By: Alex

Going steady (state) with Markov processes

By: Alex

We currently have tutors available for:

Finite Mathematics
MATH 135
Finite Math (Ivy Tech Bloomington)
Finite Math with Applications
Introduction to Finite Math 2
Introduction to Finite Math 1
Basic Algebra for Finite Math
Finite Math (Honors)